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Full text of "Mind's Eye Spring 1989"

The Mind's Eye 



Spring 1989 

Volume 9 Number 1 

EDITORIAL BOARD 

Robert Bishoff 

NORTH ADAMS STATE COLLEGE Harris Elder 

W. Anthony Gengarelly 
Stephen A, Green 
Leon Peters 

The Mind's Eye is a journal of review and comment Ellen Schiff 

published during the college year Maynard Seider 

at North Adams, Massachusetts 01247 



Linda Rear don 4 The Sense of Smell in The Bluest Eye 

Toni Morrison's novel explores prejudice through odors 
fragranl and foul. 

Sumi Colligan Exploring Issues in Women and Health 

and 7 Team teaching opens new learning opportunities. 
Michele Ethier 



The drawings in this issue are by Leonard Fortm of North Adams, Massachusetts, Brigita Fuhrmann, 
who teaches art at North Adams State College, and Susan Morris of East Dover, Vermont. 



VERSE 
John Fly nn 6 
Peter Filkins 3 



To Chris on an Island 
Gone South 



COMMENT 

Matcia Watson 2 Origins of the Crisis in Centro America 

A Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence looks at political turmoil in 
her native land. 



A Scholar-Journalist's Perspective 



Origins of the Crisis in Centro America 

by Marcia Watson 



Few areas in the world are more tightly integrated 
into the political and economic system of the 
United States than Centro America. In this 
isthmus one finds six different nations; all share a 
dependence on the United States that is deeply rooted 
in history. But Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, 
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are changing: 
each is seeking its own identity. That these people often 
rebel against their own governments suggests they are 
also rebelling against the United States government, 
which over many decades has made Centro America a 
part of its own national system. 

The know ledge of the American people about Centro 
America is clouded by myth and stereotype— some 
think of "Banana Republics" where comic men with 
large mustaches ride horses and a rich oligarchy 
oppresses peasants. One key to 
understanding Centro America 
is to recognize its diversity. 
True, there are some common- 
alities of language, culture, 
religion, politics, economics. 
But the differences are more 
remarkable, Costa Rica is very 
different from Nicaragua, and 
so is El Salvador from Hon- 
duras; with its huge Indian 
population, Guatemala in the 
North is different from all the 
others. 

Toward the south of Centro 
America, the number of 
Indians declines; Costa Ricans 
take pride in their European 
background. Costa Rica has a 
large middleclass population, 

the base of its democratic political system. In the other 
countries the middle class is very small and doesn't 
have the political freedom evident in Costa Rica. 

The history of conquest has had a long-range effect 
on the social, political, and economic future of Centro 
America. Spaniards conquered these territories and 
settled in Guatemala, where they controlled the other 
nations. The present crisis in Centro America origi- 
nated with the problems which began alter the con- 
quest. One of the main problems which arose was the 
distribution of land. Prior to their conquest, the 
Indians treated the land as a God. The land did not 
belong to anyone; an Indian's only right to land was to 
work it. But the Spaniards did not share the Indian's 
point of view. When they arrived, in 1502, they con- 




fiscated the land and made the Indian their employee. 

In the early nineteen-thirties, while modernization 
was appearing in the social and economic domains, 
new social and political groups began to emerge, 
looking for a place in the old elite. An ambitious and 
rising middle class, some as new military groups and 
others as civilians, sought to acquire land as a tra- 
ditional symbol ol prestige. In 1932, for example, they 
seized lands belonging to Indians in one part of El 
Salvador, forcing the Indians to fight for their rights. 
More than twenty thousand Indians died in the conflict. 
This control ol the land has had many negative 
consequences. A few people owned thousands of 
hectares. The land that the Indians used to produce 
their food was now used lor export crops. At the same 
time, the military was able to work its way into 
political groups and gain 
power, because those who pre- 
viously had power allowed this 
new class of landowners to 
participate in the government 
and make decisions about the 
future of their countries. 



entro America was not 
prepared for these 
changes. In Nicaragua, 
the Somoza family ruled as 
dictators for more than forty 
years, using its position to 
seize every opportunity to 
acquire land and become rich. 
In El Salvador, repressive 
regimes did not permit any 
kind of change. In Guatemala 
and Honduras, similar situations existed. Modern 
world economic realities have also contributed to 
today's problems. The oil crisis affected the area in a 
negative way simply because Centro America has no 
petroleum resources. 

The new role of the Catholic Church is important, 
too. A segment of the church agreed with the position 
of the peasants. In the nineteen-sixties, the Vatican 
emphasized that the role of young priests would be 
different; they were told to work for the good of the 
common people. When the archbishops of the region 
met in Colombia, in 1968, they redefined the role of 
these clergymen. Recognizing that it is very difficult to 
talk about salvation to those who live in misery and 
despair, church leaders stressed the importance of 



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saving people by eliminating hunger and poverty and 
by teaching them about health. Because the people of 
the region have always been very religious, the new 
stance by the church has had a great influence. This 
new attitude of the church has been called the "The- 
ology of Liberation," 

As time passed, Centro America continued to witness 
instability and conflict. In recent years, Mexico and 
several countries from South America decided to create 
a group that would try to find a solution to these 
serious probfems. They established "Contadora." After 
several years of work, and discovering that countries 
like Nicaragua did not want to participate in Conta- 
dora, the movement began to lose hope. Then, in 1986, 
after a free and popular election, the new president of 
Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez, decided to work for 
peace in the region. Asking the other countries to 
follow Costa Rica's lead, he traveled through Europe, 
South America, and North America, speaking to 
political leaders so that all could understand what was 
happening in the region and support his peace plan. 

After more than a year of deliberation, the presidents 
of Centro America agreed to a peace plan, which 
includes the following points; There would be an effort 
to achieve national reconciliation, using amnesty and 
dialogue, of groups involved in civil war. To help 
prevent any escalation of hostilities, an immediate 
ceasefire, a prohibition against future military actions, 
and a reduction of armaments would take place. To 
eliminate further the tendency toward militarization, 
those extra-regional governments which are overtly or 
covertly supplying military aid to insurgent or ir- 
regular forces would be asked to suspend such aid. 
Politically, the agreement calls for democratization, to 
include genuine pluralism, freedom of the press, and 
political participation in freeelections. Othermeasures 
prohibit the use of territory to attack other states, and 
require national and international supervision of 
Centro America's progress toward peace. 

For his efforts to achieve peace, for his insistence that 
peace in Centro America be achieved by dialogue and 
not by military actions, the President of Costa Rica 
won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1986. 



Today the Centro American countries are work- 
ing to fulfill the peace plan, each one from 
within its own environment and based on its 
own needs, using existing political, social, and eco- 
nomic structures. The governments of Guatemala, 
Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, with their own 
people, within theirown nations, are making decisions 
which must be respected and accepted by all nations of 
the world. 

The United States, as the most important force in the 
region, should give peace a chance. Centro Americans 
must solve their own problems to be able to live the 
next century in a just peace, without suffering, death, 



hunger, and poverty. 



Marcia Watson was a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residmce 
at North Adams State College during the 1987-1988 
academic year. She is a well-known television journ- 
alist in her native Costa Rica, most recently as a 
correspondent covering the war in Nicaragua. 




Gone South 

by Peler Filkins 

Warm winter rain while driving home tonight, 
the squish of tires replacing hard-packed snow, 
makes this December seem like a damp Havana 
although I've never been there. 

Palm trees, a stroll 
along some evening avenue with a honeyed girl 
a cafe's yellow wash of light, its smoky rumba 
thumps back and forth across my foggy windshield, 

the grinding, slow 

efforts of the worn-out blades 
to carve their double arch, two tunnelled holes 
into the future. 

For I've gone south for winter, 
leaving behind this town of traffic and brick, 
where two streets back this guy pulls out and hits 
the brakes barely in time 

for me to imagine 
the skid and crash, the fiery display 
of rescue lights across the nestled houses, 
faces at the windows pressing concern, 

before f sw r erve 
and sail on safe, my mind adrift and dreaming 
about a country where I've never been, 
where the revolution would be bloodless and free. 

Peter Filkins has published his poetry and criticism 
in The New Criterion, The Iowa Review, Partisan 
Review, and Hiram Poetry Review. He currently 
teaches English at North Adams State College and 
Simon's Rock of Bard College. 



-3- 



Olfaction as Novelistic Device 



The Sense of Smell in The Bluest Eye 

by Linda Reardon 



Susan L. Blake views Toni Morrison as "a writer 
who is continually singled out for her poetic 
prose sytle of writing" (190), a style clearly 
evident in her novel The Bluest Eye. We are afforded 
the pleasure of beautiful metaphors and sense images 
throughout the story which vividly personalize and 
enhance the novel. Among these, Morrison establishes 
the sense of smell as a prime connection to what I 
believe is the dominant theme of the novel: prejudice. 
This belief, although not shared by all critics, is 
supported by literary critic Phyllis Klotman, who states 
that society "educates' and unconsciously socializes its 
young with callous disregard for the cultural richness 
and diversity of its people" (314). In this novel, the 
reader is able to "smell" prejudice, see its impact on 
black society, and identify the one element able to 
minimize its devastating nature — love. The sense of 
smell afso corresponds to the secondary theme of the 
initiation experience and the effects of racism on the 
experience. By associating prejudice with this sense, 
Morrison, I believe, attempts to equate it with the base 
functioning of man and not the highly developed, en- 
lightened side of man which, ironically, white society 
purports itself to be. 

The theme of prejudice is evident from the beginning 
of the novel. The story centers upon the black families 
of the McTeers and the Breedloves. By examining the 
children of these two families and their experiences in 
growing up black in America, we learn how the white 
world "impinges upon the black children and their 
families while at the same time excluding them" 
(Klotman 314). Through the employment of the "Dick 
and Jane" technique, Morrison establishes contrasts 
between the white world, the world of the impoverished 
but loving McTeer family, and the totally distorted 
world of the Breedlove family, The use of the the sense 
of smell corresponds to these three divisions of society. 

When we meet Claudia and Frieda McTeer, we 
sense that these girls, in spite of the 
assault of a racist society, will survive and be 
comfortable within their culture and with themselves, 
Morrison demonstrates this in Claudia's dislike for the 
Shirely Temple doll (19), a white symbol of beauty, and 
through the strong family unit of the McTeers. We 
realize they are products of poor but supportive parents 
who provide strong enough roots to establish a positive 
self-image. This j udgement cannot be rendered through 
modern-day criteria of model child-rearingskills, qual- 
ity time, and other popular guidelines. Quite the 



contrary. These children slip through childhood on the 
receiving end of ritualistic care and obligation. The 
uneducated and poor McTeer parents exhaust most of 
their energy in keeping food on the table and coal in the 
stove, leaving their children on their own to fill the 
emot ional void, a task they accomplish by interpreting 
subtle clues from their daily lives. 

Recalling an episode from her childhood when she 
had been ill, Claudia realizes a love that, although not 
overt, nevertheless was present. Describing its impact 
on Claudia's senses, Morrison writes, "I could smell it 
— taste it — sweet, musty, with an edge of wintergreen 
in its base — everywhere in that house" (14). Claudia 
smells the love of everyday home remedies, Vicks, and 
cold in a world where crisp, white sheets and flowers do 
not exist for the sick. The love is present, however, in 
routine, rough-edged practices that belong to "some- 
one who does not want to die" (14). 

We smell the authenticity of this family again in the 
description of the Saturday cleaning and cooking 
ritual, where "The house smelled of Fels Naphtha and 
the sharp odor of mustard greens cooking" (24) — 
natural, earthy odors that neither belie the position of 
the family nor demean it. 

In sharp contrast to this, Morrison juxtaposes the 
white, "ideal" family of the Dick and Jane readers used 
in the schools at the time. This family is embodied in 
the Fishers, comfortably established in a beautiful, 
large house complete with picket fence and neatly 
groomed lawn and flowers. The image smacks of 
cleanliness and sterility. In this house, we are intro- 
duced to white woodwork, procelain, polished cab- 
inets, and gleaming copper. One does not smell turnips 
cooking in here, only "odors of meat, vegetables, and 
something freshly baked" (86). The clean, fresh odors 
paradoxically become symbols for prejudice — some- 
thing that has a very foul smell. 

Along with the Fisher family, Morrison introduces 
us to blacks who try desperately to achieve the "white" 
life that society has told them is the right life. They 
endeavor to reach this goal by minimizing and con- 
cealing signs and symbols of their blackness. These 
blacks, represented by Geraldine, will do anything to 
become white in as many ways as possible. In the 
process, they lose their authenticity. Here again, the 
sense of smell captures the hypocrisy inspired by 
prejudice. Morrison writes that they smell "as sweet 
and plain as butteicake" and "wash themselves with 
orange-colored Lifebuoy soap, dust themselves with 
Cashmere Bouquet talc ..." (68), It is nothing more 
than a masking of their own odor with the acceptable 



-4- 



white one. Morrison notes that one does not smell 
sweat — a natural odor — emanating from these women, 
but rather an odor of wood and vanilla (68), a substance 
used for flavoring. The comparison here seems to 
suggest that however hard these blacks try to be white, 
they are artificial — blacks flavored white. 

Continuing with the description of these blacks, 
Morrison describes the odors emanating from their 
homes. Greeting us from Geraldine's house is the odor 
of "sheets boiled white and hung on Juniper bushes to 
dry" (68). There are no turnips or mustard greens 
cooking here to fill the house with acrid and foul odors 
that would hint at any connection to a culture they 
have fought desperately to suppress. The food odors in 
this kitchen are the pleasant "white" odors of coffee 
and ham. The hypocrisy of this life is revealed, 
however, through Junior, Geraldine's son. Morrison 
writes that he longed to play with black boys and 
"smell their wild blackness" 
(71 ). For all appearances, he is 
white. He dresses white, he 
eats white, he plays white, but, 
subconsciously, he longs for 
acceptance in the culture from 
which he has been alienated. 
The effect of this existence 
manifests itself in his character, 
that of a deviant personality. 

We also see this artificial 
whiteness in the person of 
Soaphead Church. He, like 'n 
Geraldine, is resentful of his 
black roots and becomes 
obsessed with cleanliness and 
purity, in the novel symbols of 
white culture. Ironically, Ins 
character is that of a sexual 
pervert, the dregs of society in 
any culture. Like Geraldine, 
he dislikes any thing connected 

to a real, loving relationship and the physical contact 
involved. Morrison employs the sense of smell to 
demonstrate this attitude. "He abhorred flesh on flesh. 
Body odor, breath odor, overwhelmed him" (131). 
Church associates cleanliness with his own sexual 
actions toward young girls. In his letter to God, Church 
writes, "And there wasn't nastiness, and there wasn't 
any filth, and there wasn't any odor" (H3). As with 
Geraldine, his clean, Iresh smells are only skin deep, 
masking the hypocrisy of these people and the foul 
odor of racism. 

The assault of racism and its devastating effects on 
black society is vividly portrayed, ironically, by the 
Brtedloves. This "family" represents the complete 
breakdown ol identity and meaning. Despite their 
name, there is no love in their midst to overcome the 
hatred inflicted upon them by society. They are des- 
cribed as extremely and totally ugly, an ugliness born 
ol racism. Even worse than their physical image is that 




of their self-image: they feel ugly (34). Their world is 
chaotic and distorted, with no apparent unified core. 
Morrison reinforces this image with the description of 
their living quarters: a storefront with a collection of 
odd furniture whose only similarity is detachment. No 
living goes on in this house, only surviving. Nothing is 
ever cooking in this house to fill the rooms with odors 
that will stir up memories in years to come. The theme 
of prejudice is further developed in that the only odor 
associated with this group of people is of whiskey 
emanating from Cholly, which serves to reinforce the 
image of distortion and chaos. 



The initiation experience, as it applies to Cholly 
and Pecola Breedlove, is also explored in The 
Bluest Eye. This process, like their lives, is not 
fulfilling. The sense of smell relates to this theme as 
well. At the age of fourteen, 
Cholly finds himself on the 
brink of manhood, as demon- 
strated by the watermelon 
scene. While attending a 
church picnic, he watches 
a man holding a watermelon 
high overhead, ready to dash it 
to the ground. Waiting 
anxiously for the splendid 
moment, Cholly finds himself 
becoming excited about 
thoughts of the devil and the 
fate of the watermelon. 
Cholly's emerging manhood 
is symbolized by the suspended 
waiting state of the water- 
melon. The image of thai in- 
toxicating moment is captured 
^ylfjiif^^' by Morrison through smell 
and music, itself a cultural 
symbol: "Far away somebody 
was playing a moulhorgan; the music slithered over rhe 
cane fields and into the pint: grove; it spiraled around 
the tree trunks and mixed itself with the pine scent, so 
Cholly couldn't tell the difference between the sound 
and odor that hung about the heads of the people" 
(107). 

We are encouraged to hope that Cholly's experience 
will be as pleasurable and satisfying as the sweet red 
meat of the smashed watermelon. We quickly learn, 
however, that the experience will not have these 
qualities. After the funeral of his Aunt Jimmy, Cholly 
finds himself in a field with Darlene, engaged in his 
first sexual encounter. At the culminating moment, 
they are intruded upon by two white hunters who 
quickly turn the union into a humiliating spectacle. 
Cholly knows they are white by their smell (116). The 
odor of prejudice once again impinges upon the black 
man, in this instance making Cholly's transition into 
manhood a degrading moment. 



-5- 



Morrison continues with this technique when Cholly 
finds his father in Macon. As he approaches the man 
pointed out to him as Samson Fuller, we are once again 
hopeful that Cholly, despite the humiiiaiing scene at 
the hands of the white men, will find his manhood 
here, in the midst of his own culture. The group of men 
playing craps in the street seem to become a symbol for 
manhood. Morrison writes, "As he came closer, he 
inhaled a rife and stimulating man smell" (121). This 
encounter proves to be as degrading as his sexual one, 
and once again Cholly feels the pain of humiliation. In 
the following scene, we find Cholly, completely re- 
jected, soiling himself with his own excrement in the 
streets of Macon. Instead of the odor of manhood, 
Cholly starts his journey into adulthood smelling like a 
dirty baby. 

In contrast to this, Morrison describes the old women 
who were friends of Cholly 's Aunt Jimmy, whose rite of 
passage was a mixture of painful and beautiful mem- 
ories, "a puree of tragedy and humor, wickedness and 
serenity, truth and fantasy" (110). Despite the efforts of 
white society, they, like the McTeers, have secure 
enough roots to hold on to their sense of self and 
remain satisfied with who they are in a way that is 
meaningful and satisfying. They retain images of when 
"The odor of their armpits and haunches had mingled 
into a lovely musk" (109). Morrison describes them as 
finafly being free, a freedom far different than that 
experienced by Cholly and Pecola. 

The effects of racism on the Breedloves is that 
of total disintegration. White society would 
rather destroy them than deal with them. 
Blacks elevate themselves by looking down on the 
Breedloves. For Cholly the result is a completely 
deviant anti-social behavior that eventually leads to 
death. Pecola's fate is an escape into the madness of a 
self-created world where her imaginary blue eyes give 
her the beauty she longs for. Her world is one in which 
she will never again have to breathe in the loul odor of 
prejudice. 



Works Cited 

Blake, Susan L. Afro-American Fiction Writers After 
1955. Dictionary oj Literary Biography. Vol. 33. Eds. 
Thadious Davis and Trudier Harris. Detroit: Gale 
Research, 1984. 

Klolman, Phyllis. Contemporary Literary Criticism. 
Vol. 22. Eds. Sharon R. Grinton and Jean C. Stine. 
Detroit. Gale Research, 1982. 



Linda Reardon is a nontraditionai student majoring in 
Elementary Education at North Adams State College; 
she will be awarded her baccalaureate degree m May, 
1989. Her article mm originally written as a paper for a 
course entitled "Literature and Society," which fo- 
cused on issues of race, sex, and class, taught by 
Professor Meera Tamaya of the English/ Communi- 
cations Department. 

Toni Morrison is not only one of the foremost Afro- 
American novelists writing today, but she is also a 
leading American novelist whose profundity of vision 
and innovatweness of form place her in the forefront of 
contemporary fiction writers, a fact which has been 
recognized by the award of the Pulitzer Prize for her 
most recent novel, Beloved. 




John Flynn, a native of Central Massachusetts, has 
been published in Threshhoids, Calliope, and The 
Newport Review. He resides in Kansas City, Kansas. 



Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. New York: 
Washington Square Press, 1972. 



To Chris on an Island 

by John Flynn 

I weep when Manhatttan fogs 

knowing that each night 

a few rapes will go unreported. 

I could not live in that nightmare 
though [ reluctantly live with it. 

My only sister 

I'm breaking apart... 

f want to save you 

from the pigeon streets 

from the platinum sky 

from (he stink and noise 

from where you want to be. 

Remember, there is a corner here for you 
close to dawn, close to sunset 
close to the terror slowly consuming 
your brother. 



-6- 



Interdisci pli nary Perspectives 



Exploring Issues in Women and Health 

by Sumi Colligan and Michele Ethier 



In the Fall Semester, 1987, we co-taught a special 
topics course entitled "Women and Health." 
This interdisciplinary course involved the fields of 
anthropology, sociology, and social work. We believed 
our combined academic strengths would make this 
endeavor more powerful. Our goaf was to help our 
students understand that health issues faced by women 
in the United States are no isolated phenomena 
but are international in scope. Cultural attitudes 
concerning women and health become more apparent 
in a comparative perspective. Drawing upon examples 
from other cultures allows students to challenge their 
own assumptions and 10 become more open-minded 
about personal and political options. In addition, 
when students can examine myths about their own 
culture, they are in a better 
position to develop new out- 
looks on accepted supposi- 
tions. 

We felt particularly quali- 
fied to teach this course because 
of our experience and training. 
Michele Ethier completed a 
master's thesis in sociology on 
battered women, and she wrote 
her master's thesis in social 
work on teenage pregnancy. 
Sumi Colligan holds a doc- 
torate in cultural anthro- 
pology and a master's degree 
in public health. Like many 
women, both of us have en- 
countered negative responses 

from the medical establishment. These personal ex- 
periences have sparked our interest in exploring 
women's health issues and in examining the male- 
dominated, capitalistic system of American health care. 

The impetus for this course is an outgrowth of the 
Women's Health Movement, which coalesced in the 
late nineteen-sixties. The purpose of the Movement 
was threefold: raise consciousness about women's 
health needs, provide women-managed health-related 
services, and challenge the paternalistic and patriarchal 
structure of health care institutions. By the nineleen- 
seventies, women had realized that women's health 
issues crossed national boundaries. When the Dalkon 
Shield was outlawed in the United States, the A.H. 
Robbins Company, which manufactured the intrauterine 
device, marketed it in Third-World countries. Another 
example of the expansion of United Stales technology 
and medical ideology includes what Adrienne Rich 




calls the "the theft of childbirth." Increasingly, the 
birth process is incorporated into a medical setting in 
which decision-making is in the hands of technocrats. 
This process is taking place despite evidence that 
hospital birth is not always the best for mother and 
child. As feminists active in the Women's Movement, 
we consider it important to bring these issues before 
our students for examination and exploration, 



The aforementioned processes and events led us 
lo formulate a number of objectives for the 
course. We examined women's health as prob- 
lematic and dynamic issues, focusing on the historical 
and socioculttiral context in which women's health has 
been, and is, defined. In Vic- 
torian society, for exampfe, 
women were thought to be 
controlled by their reproduc- 
tive anatomy. Exposure to or 
participation in the outside 
world was limited because 
physicians in the nineteenth 
century believed that women 
would become overexcited and 
thwart their reproductive 
potential. A contemporary 
example of cultural factors 
impacting on women's exper- 
iences of their own bodies is 
the prevalence of eating dis- 
orders among American adol- 
escent females. In exploring 
these issues, we discussed societal images of beauty, 
social expectations of "femininity," exercise regimes 
and weight loss industries targeted towards women, 
and aggressive and sexist advertising campaigns. 

Since women's health needs are often treated as a 
response to the doctor's normative views on sexuality, 
we addressed sexuality in a cultural and social frame- 
work and applied a bio-psycho-social model for under- 
standing variations in sexuality. We emphasized that 
gender identity and sexual orientation are learned, and 
that those who adopt nontraditional behaviors are not 
necessarily unhealthy. Moreover, we considered reasons 
why single, married, and homosexual women who 
want to have children encounter certain social ob- 
stacles imposed by the medical profession. 

A final objective was to explore special populations 
of women and societies' stereotypes of them. We 
discussed metaphors for menopause and how the 



-7- 



implicit message of the metaphors conveys pathology. 
We explored reasons why poor and minority women 
are used as experimental populations. We raised ques- 
tions about the cultural conditions which promote 
rape and wife battery, and we offered evidence that 
challenges the assumption that violence against women 
is natural and inevitable. 

The books we selected were provocative. Herculine 
Barbin (1980), a diary of a nineteenth-century French 
hermaphrodite, stimulated inquiry into gender classifi- 
cation systems and the impact of socialization on 
gender identity and sexual orientation. Birth in Four 
Cultures (1983), a cross-cultural investigation of child- 
birth in the Yucatan, Holland, Sweden, and the United 
States, illustrates that birth is not simply .a biological 
event. The examples draw r n from Holland, Sweden, 
and the Yucatan demonstrate that efforts to reduce 
maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States 
require a reexamination of the political, cultural, and 
structural factors which mold our current childbirth 
practices. The New Our Bodies, Ourselves (1984), a 
publication of the Boston Women's Health Collective, 
provides invaluable information about ways in which 
w r omen can take responsibility for their bodies, to own 
and control them. 

In addition to the theoretical concepts, a variety of 
teaching techniques conveyed the practical ap- 
plications. Contraceptive devices were displayed and 
their uses were demonstrated. Experimental exercises 
were utilized to help students discover their hidden 
attitudes and feelings about themselves and others. 
Guest lecturer Dr. Mary Ellen Cohane discussed her 
efforts to negotiate selected birthing alternatives with 
her obstetrician and the regional hospital. Cathy Maye, 
a lay midwife, showed slides of home births she had 
attended and talked about why certain women are 
attracted to non-medicalized births. 

Our most difficult task was to help students see that 
the problems which women encounter in the health 
care system are not simply products of an individual's 
personal circumstances but are rooted in the character- 
istics of the larger society. We continually had to 
address comments like "Each doctor is different and it's 
just a personality quirk."; "Don't women provoke 
abuse?";or "Women in other cultures are ignorant." In 
order to penetrate the ethnocentric and parochial lens 
of the student, we probed the questions of private 
troubles versus public issues. Throughout the course, 
we tried to elucidate women's health issues by using a 
sociological imagination. 

According to written evaluations which we solicited 
at the end of the semester, students believed they had 
gained a greater understanding of the medical pro- 
fession's attitudes toward women and the implications 
of these attitudes for the treatments which women 
receive. The response of student Cathy Markham, in 
particular, appears to summarize a learning process 
common to many other students: "I came into the class 
not knowing what to expect. I progressed to being 
uncomfortable because I was challenged to think about 
issues that I would rather leave locked away. Finally, I 



was able to open myself gradually to a budding new 
consciousness, began to talk about the class to friends, 
and determined to study and explore on my own." 

Of course, not all students endorsed our approach 
unequivocally. One student thought our orientation 
was "too feminist." The student believed that a cross- 
cultural perspective lacked validity because women in 
other cultures may not react adversely to such ex- 
periences as rape. The student also defended patriarchy 
by suggesting that women are their own worst enemies. 
Several students wished there had been more time for 
discussion because in order to foster critical thinking 
on the issues posed by the class, students need to think 
out loud and receive immediate feedback. 

While we recognize students' rights to their opinions, 
we feel justified in maintaining a feminist orientation 
which gives a voice to women who have traditionally 
been silenced and whose point of view has been 
ignored. Furthermore, implying that women are their 
own worst enemies obscures the structural variables 
that impede women's growth and development. 

In reply to the desire for more discussion, we plan to 
integrate more opportunities for students to share their 
ideas and reactions. We hope to achieve a greater 
balance between covering the broad-ranging facets of 
women and health and allowing sufficient time for 
students to process these issues in a manner comfortable 
to them. 

We see our course on women and health as 
making an appropriate contribution to a 
liberal arts education. The concepts and 
ideas learned in the course help students make more 
responsible decisions in their personal lives. The 
course also encourages students to pursue the issues to 
which they have been exposed in order to remain 
informed citizens capable of evaluating the pros and 
cons of various social policies. Students gain a greater 
tolerance of cultural and individual diversity; at the 
same time, the interdisciplinary approach enables 
them to see the relatedness of issues faced by women 
around the world. 

Co-teaching afforded us an opportunity to benefit 
from each other's pedagogical style and expertise. We 
learned from each other about how to teach difficult 
and controversial topics, We also furthered our own 
knowledge of each other's disciplines. Being in the 
classroom together gave us a chance to exchange 
insights about our students and their individual biases. 
Our common bond as women, social scientists, and 
friends has strengthened our resolve to engage in 
similar cooperative projects in the future. 



Sumi Colligan's interest in women's health issues 
emerged from her exploration of the interrelationship 
of culture, health, and illness and of comparative 
health care systems studied in a public health graduate 
program, 

Michele Ethier became interested in issues of women 
and health when she was writing her master's thesis on 
the sociological factors which contribute to teenage 
pregnancy. Her interest has widened to include other 
adolescent age-specific phenomena such as anorexia 
and bulimarexia. 



-s-